Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Monkey on our Back (Part 3)

In the end, our addiction to civilization may not be the largest obstacle we will have to scale.  The “substance” of corporate consumer culture is not really all that powerful as an addictive agent.  Ultimately its power derives from the exploitation of our evolutionary hard-wiring for an entirely different kind of lifestyle. 

Our continuing consumption of the substance of consumer culture requires continuous distraction, the unrelenting input of persuasive marketing propaganda, and the distortion of our evolved psychological tendencies.  According to Benjamin Barber, one of the ways that our consumer civilization keeps us addicted to its life-draining products is through the cultivation and promotion of an ethos of infantilization, an “enduring childishness” in which our natural psychological development is intentionally stunted in order to exploit the gullibility, impulsiveness, and narcissism of youth.  Mature adults are able to delay gratification, and understand that things that are truly worthwhile take time and effort.  They prefer to work toward enduring happiness rather than seek out transient pleasures.  They are able to live with ambiguity and appreciate a plurality of individual tastes.  They emphasize public obligation over private entitlement and reasoned deliberation over emotion-driven impulse.  All of these qualities make mature adults poor consumers. 

Disengaging from the superficial, infantilized meanings of consumerism and returning to something more in line with our evolved adult propensities will be, in terms of potency, like switching from aspirin to heroin.  Actually, the drug metaphor makes for a poor comparison in this case.  The change from modern civilization to a lifestyle more consistent with our DNA will be like waking up from a suffocating nightmare to a deep breath of cool fresh mountain air.  Without a corporate system designed to keep us functioning like child zombies, without media and advertising constantly spoon-feeding us messages about how we need to furnish our lives with the latest products that promise but fail to deliver, without the continual and accelerating infusion from the global consumer machine our lifestyles will quickly revert to ones more resonant with the subsistence-living history of our species, our lives will shift rapidly in the direction of our evolutionary default.

We just need to find a way to pull the plug. 

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